The Baker by the Sea
There’s a gentle lyrical feeling about Paula White’s highly detailed illustrations for this book, which is set in a beach village on Suffolk’s east coast, her erstwhile hometown that was also home to a thriving fishing community until the devastating Great Floods in the early 1950s.
A watchful young boy describes the grown-ups working hard at their various occupations: the shop-keepers, the blacksmiths, the basketmakers, the bakers – chiefly his father, the sail-makers, the net-makers and rope-makers, the coopers who make barrels in which the fish were pickled, the fisher-girls from Scotland who prepare, pickle and pack the fish and most important of all, the fishermen out in their boats while everyone else is asleep.
The boy narrator is an aspiring fisherman who imagines himself hard at work aboard a fishing-boat, helping his fellow team members at the ropes, hauling in a fine catch and perhaps battling against the elements, before sailing back to the safety of the village.
One can almost smell the wonderful aroma of his father’s fresh bread wafting across the bay to welcome both the returnees and the new day as it dawns.
It’s not just bread that his father bakes but also biscuits, buns, the boatbuilders’ favourite bacon butties. The boy loves to help in the bakery, basking in the warmth and glow within while also thinking about those outside, who toil in the cold, windy weather. He watches too, the exchange between his father and one of the returning fishermen who comes into his bakery.
A nostalgic, respectful, loving look at a community in a time gone by when everybody knew and supported one another. this lovely book concludes with a recipe for hot coconut buns taken from the author’s grandpa Percy’s notebook.
Paula’s incredibly beautiful, realistic pen-and-ink artwork, though very different in artistic style, for me is imbued with the spirit of Edward Ardizzone.